Short answer: Yes, but it may not be what you think. Most of the time when we talk about estate planning we’re talking about avoiding probate, and providing for your beneficiaries. When you don’t have kids or much property, those aren’t really a big concern, but something else is.
Staying in Control
The biggest estate planning concern you have as a single person is: who will take care of things for you if you become disabled? You mom? Your dad? Someone else? Chances are you have a strong preference about who should be in charge. But unless you complete several important legal documents, that person won’t have any legal authority to make any decisions on your behalf without going to court. You could end up under a conservatorship managed by the court with someone other than your first choice in charge unless you take control.
Taking Control of Your Medical Care – The Advance Health Care Directive
Most medical providers will have a HIPAA complainant form available to sign when you visit their offices. The Advance Health Care Directive that we prepare is different in two ways: first, the one we prepare is for estate planning purposes, and second, the one we prepare meets the requirements of California law, which a surprising number of forms you’ll find in the marketplace do not.
Watch out for old forms: people with older estate plans have forms that are no longer current. If your document title is “Living Will” or “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care” you should have it reviewed. Those documents have since been replaced with the Advance Health Care Directive which includes language to deal with HIPAA and other changes in health care laws.
Taking Control of Your Financial Decisions – The Durable Power of Attorney
In order for someone to sign a contract for you when you’re disabled they have to be your agent under a power of attorney. For example, hiring someone to do in-home care for you, or purchasing a wheel-chair or walker. The fill in the blank forms that are commonly available don’t have any estate planning provisions in them. So often, your agent won’t have the ability to get your assets into your trust if that hasn’t been done, or correct the beneficiary designation on your IRAs or your retirement accounts. Perhaps more importantly is the ability to adjust your estate plan and reconfigure your assets if it becomes necessary to qualify for Medicaid or Medi-Cal. What is surprising is that many estate plans actually prevent you from making those adjustments.
Becoming disabled can to be financially devastating, but with the proper planning in place it doesn’t have to be.